David’s work led him to analyze how biological molecular machines behave and copy their fundamental philosophy using artificial constructs.  His unbiased approach does not presuppose any definite end goal, but rather he is exploring what machines and are possible in the nano universe.  Rather than shrinking down large scale mechanisms, he believes we should iterate on the already successful biological constructs we see operating all around us.  His group makes motors and other programmable molecular machines using chemical synthesis. 



Visualizing molecular machines that are made by chemists is a difficult process.  X-Ray crystallography has typically been used for seeing these small devices, but it’s a dated and inefficient process.  Cryo-electron microscopy seems to be a promising alternative, but it is still in a primitive state.  There needs to be a better way of seeing what is happening at these small scales.

Q&A Takeaways:

  • Advice to undergrads – it’s best to be an expert in some skill.  But don’t get narrow minded, stay in contact with experts in other fields.  The big breakthroughs in technology seem to come from taking ideas from one area and applying them to another.
  • Diffusion is still the most prominent motion at the molecular level, so be a chemist!
  • A “voyage of discovery” is a better model of progress for molecular machines than trying to seek a specific goal.
  • Surfaces are the very next frontier in molecular machines.  Smart materials, mechanosorption, and switchable adhesives are some possibilities.
  • Investment will drive rapid advances in technology, and molecular machines are no exception
  • Multipurpose machines are another big near-term goal, and one of the first generalizations of technology will occur in the domain of fueling systems.
  • DNA nanotechnology is highly modular and multipurpose as well.
  • However, small molecules are more versatile than DNA nanotechnology.
  • Nobody doubts that nanobots are going to heavily impact nanotechnology.



Seminar summary by Aaron King.